Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, March 15)

Mar 15, 2013

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, March 15, at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

Hi Carolyn. With regard to the grandparents that wanted their grandson and his partner to stay at a hotel rather than their house, I'm surprised you leaped to the "they are horrible, discriminating people" judgment so quickly. That sort of situation is a common compromise among Catholic families, for example, where some relatives do not approve of a relationship they feel is wrong but do not also want to cut off all contact with their family members. It's no different than a mom asking her son and his girlfriend to stay in a hotel rather than in her home if they have a sexual relationship. We were given very little information about the couple, so perhaps they are hateful, but perhaps they are simply trying to find a balance between their religious convictions and their family. I don't think it helps matters to assume the absolute worst of people, even if you disagree with their actions.

"It's no different than a mom asking her son and his girlfriend to stay in a hotel rather than in her home if they have a sexual relationship."

No way. If that couple changes its legal status, the bedroom in the family home is theirs. What is the gay couple to do, get straightification surgery? I will not be a party to granting cover for this kind of discrimination. Separate but equal has been rightly found abhorrent in other contexts, and this one is no different.

On today's column: As a woman who has struggled with my weight most of my life I'd like to offer a little perspective on hearing others complain about their weight...while there are extremes in all situations, I've learned to look at it like this. I have several friends who were always thin and have gained weight as they've gotten older. To me, who (until recently) was close to 300 pounds, I think they look great. But when they're used to being a certain size and that is no longer your reality, it's understandly bothersome. And I also have a few friends who are thin but just want to drop those last 5 or 10 pounds. It's all in what we're comfortable with. Yes some women have unhealthy body images, but just because you may be overweight doesn't mean that thinner people aren't allowed to moan about wanting to cut back too.

At what point, though, does it equate to complaining about the rising cost of yacht maintenance to someone working a n extra part-time job to cover rent? Everyone's different, yes, and one person's normal is very different from another's, but that doesn't mean sensitivity and the occasional clue aren't valuable elements of civilized society. If anything they're more important.

You are very generous in your view of your friends, and I don't mean to discourage that--it's perhaps and even more valued element than the aforesaid sensitivity--but there are enough responsibilities here to go around.


I swear I'm not feeling particularly combative today; just a coincidental one-two start.

I wrote in last week about my spouse and computer game. Thank you for taking my question. I am looking into finding a therapist, I never realized how my words sounded until I saw you quote them. Hopefully once I get settled my spouse will agree to come as well. On the upside, since last Friday things have been a LOT better. Its almost like my spouse read the column. I slept in on Sunday, and spouse has taken over bath time and story time. Aside from one incident where all three kids were crying and I asked for help and the response was "can't it wait 10 more minutes". That response put me over the edge and we talked about it. I didn't go so far as to say the game goes, and I am not sure why I lack the confidence to address it so directly, but hopefully that is where a counselor or therapist can help me. Thanks again.

Thank you, too, for the promising update. 

Carolyn I'm not sure if I was a good friend or not. A high school/college friend's Dad passed away in December. I haven't seen this friend in many years, but we keep in touch via email occasionally (not facebook - they don't do facebook). I was on vacation when he died but when I got home I immediately sent them a condolences email. I haven't yet donated to any charity they listed in the obituary (although I said I would). I called them a few weeks later and spoke to his wife (my college roommate) for about 30 minutes, he was out. I meant to call them back during that weekend to speak to him but I haven't done that yet either. And now it's mid-March and I feel crappy about this much time going by without a follow up call or even a card (or that donation to charity I said I'd do). On the other hand my cat died in mid-January and I was consumed with her illness for the last month of her life (and didn't feel like much of anything for many weeks after) but that's not any kind of excuse. Should I keep flogging myself over this, should I apologize for being a bad friend? They live about four hours away. I did mention I'd like to come visit them this year (finally, after many years). Can I make it up then do you think?

Speaking only from my own frame of reference, I think you're blowing your bad-friendhood way out of proportion, especially given that your friendship is on the maintenance plan of occasionally sending an email. I might not even have noticed that you never followed up on your call, given what was going on in my life at the time. (I would consider regarding you as a bad friend, though, if you called me now and blamed your silence on your cat. As significant an emotional drain and life-disrupter as that is, I think we can agree it just doesn't translate.)

Regardless, whether you can make it up to him is up to him--and whether you try to resume being a good friend, starting now, is up to you. 

Why not just call to see how he's doing? I wouldn't even mention that you're flogging yourself--just say you meant to follow up on your first call and, you're so sorry, time got away from you.

It will help immensely if you knew the father and could share a good thought about him. By this time, the crowd of reassuring people has long since scattered and it can be welcome to hear that someone still cares.

They've been this way all their lives, and I'm finally (at age 30) at a point where I don't want to see or hear from them. Our conversations consist of them asking me quickly how things are, and letting me say a sentence or two before they jump in with "that's nice. Guess what we're doing..." and they will go on. They seem to listen to others talk to find a spot where they can jump in and take over the conversation. I've had 2 major fights with them about their inability to listen, to me or my husband, and what seems like their total lack of interest in our lives, after which, they seemed kind of sorry, but also gave me a "we're old and this is how we talk" shrug. They really don't think anything is wrong with our relationship; they think because we visit yearly and "talk" somewhat regularly, that we're a happy family. I wish I could just shrug off the visits and calls, but they always remind me of how much I long for parents who knew anything about my job or my interests. I honestly feel like I wouldn't be losing anything if I never saw them again. I'm an only child with their only grandchildren, so they are going to be devastated if I just quit the family. But, neither hints nor outright confrontation have done anything to improve the situation. Am I crazy for wanting to part ways with my own parents over this?

No, but for your own peace of mind, you might want to work on the, "I wish I could just shrug off the visits and calls, but they always remind me of how much I long for parents who knew anything about my job or my interests." 

Any emotional letdown is a two-way transaction. There's the party with the expectations, and the party that fails to meet them. You've clearly identified the way your parents fail you, and have apparently made a real effort to change that. 

That leaves your part. Have you made just as concerted an effort to change the part of you that keeps wanting them to be people they aren't? 

I'm not suggesting this because parents occupy some mythic pedestal. It's also not for me to dictate what is and isn't sufficient grounds for severing a family tie. However, there are practical indications here that a full estrangement might be regrettably extreme.

1. Your parents don't sound cruel, just oblivious to anything more than a foot away from their faces. It's possible they even care quite about about you (are they the ones who call you?), but blah blah blah is the mode of communication they were taught. I'm not in a position to say your parents fit this description, but there are certainly people who do.

2. They are the key to your childhood, and possibly your whole family tree. This might not matter now, but it's not unheard of for people to start to care later. Just one example, there are about 50 things I've thought to ask my mom since she died, things that have nothing to do with how close we were--just factual stuff. Keeping that pathway open might be worth a few frustrating calls and visits a year (or whatever it would take you to prop the door to the relationship open). 

3. You're asking me. Looking for validation is often a sign that you're not sure yourself--not always, but often. And where there's uncertainty, even a smidge, there's an airtight argument to postpone radical action. Or inaction, possibly, in this case.


Hi Carolyn -- not a 'big deal' problem by any means, but I'm wondering -- what would your internal process, and external response be, to the sudden re-emergence (via a one word FB email -- nothing said other than "hey") of a former decades-long friend? It wasn't my idea to sever contact (w/no notice and no explanation), but in the last several years, I've realized that it was definitely a good thing for me. I am ignoring, and will not re-establish contact. Guess I just feel irritated at myself for re-hashing bad memories in order to justify my decision, instead of feeling peaceful and compassionate, bla bla bla... Thanks!

Sounds as if you muddled your way to this on your own, but I can add that the muddle is nothing to be ashamed of. I think we'd all love to be "peaceful and compassionate," but for most of us there isn't much of either behind the curtain, and it's no small feat to summon enough for a calm exterior. For some reason, I'm stuck on the image of a busy restaurant--calm up front, and don't look in back.

You didn't ask and don't need to hear, but some more affirmation: That FB "hey" is outreach designed to be ignored. 

Yesterday, I was spending time with friends including my MOH. Without thinking, she asked everyone to check their calendars to make sure they'd be available for my bridal shower. The problem is that I had not planned on inviting one of the girls present. Am I now obligated to invite her to both shower and wedding??

Sure sounds like it. Any reason this would be terrible? As in, worse than slapping her in the face with a non-invitation?

I seem to go through phases with my fiancee where pretty much everything annoys or upsets me. Sometimes it lasts for a couple days, sometimes for months. Then, with no notice, whatsoever, the phase will just end, and instead of shaking with annoyance or sadness over both little and big things, I am suddenly able to deal with them by communicating and compromising. I hate these phases and I want them to stop - what can I do? (FWIW I still feel lots of love for fiancee during the phases)

Any chance you have an underlying health issue that could trigger these episodes of irritability? Is it just your fiancee or have you felt irritated at other people/things? If it's been a while since your last physical, consider getting a full workup.

Or, is there an external explanation for times that you're especially stressed? 

The easiest explanation might just be that your feelings for her are changing, but I think the fact that you go back to contentedness again suggests it's worth ruling out some non-fiancee-related causes before you take a harder look at the relationship.


Hi Carolyn - You're awesome! Hopefully, you can help. I have a great boyfriend who is wonderful and funny. He just got out of six years of the US Army, which included a cheating (now ex) wife, two tours to Iraq, and a son who passed away. Since getting out of the army, he drinks nightly. When he drinks liquor, he will accuse me of cheating or not loving him like I used to. Recently, he said he has a drinking problem, but it is not bad enough to go to AA but will only drink beer from now on. Given his past, I understand his drinking. Is there anything I can do to help him to realize he needs to give it all up because it is not okay? At what point do I go from understanding his drinking to leaving him because of it?

After you get to the point, I hope, where you and he recognize this as emotional fallout from his service and his very significant personal traumas.

I am not versed in the specifics of mental-health support for veterans, except to be aware there's nowhere near enough of it, but that's where I suggest you start: Think of the drinking as a symptom of a problem and not the problem itself, and start tracking down resources available to him (or just find good counseling through the usual civilian channels, if you're in a position to). That he's willing to admit he has a drinking problem means he might be receptive to help, which is a huge hurdle for him to have cleared.

My mom killed herself a few years ago, and I've always been very open about it with everyone, including my in-laws. Recently, my mother-in-law gave a talk about grief and suicide survivors and talked about me and my mom (without my permission - a whole other issue entirely!) and emphasized the importance of remembering the birthday and "death anniversary" of the loved one lost. She's never reached out on the anniversary or my mom's bday, which just fills me with resentment and anger since she came across as doing just that in her talk. How do I move on from this and let go of this anger?? Love your chats!

I'm sorry about your mom, and I can see why your MIL's oversights have you churning.

I'll probably get accused of being "passive aggressive" with this advice, but it's not intended as such:

Thank her, in writing or in person, for recognizing the importance of remembering the days of the loved one's birth and death. Then say, "For my mother, those dates are _____ and _____. It would mean so much to have the support of family on these days." And if this is spoken, follow up by writing down the dates for her.

I suggest this because it's too often the case that people don't actually know what someone wants from them and when. In those cases, it makes sense to be clear, in a loving way, about your preferences. It's also fine to have your husband speak for you, even to call his mom on these days to say, "Hey, a call to Stella would be a welcome gesture today."

If you're sure-sure-sure she knows exactly what the dates are, then spelling it out would be a little weird. In that case, your choices are pretty much to thank her for mentioning date-recognition and say straight out that you'd love it if she did that for you (not in a "thanks for nothing" way, but in an "It would mean a lot to me" way), or not say anything, put it in the larger context of who she is and file it away as her problem, not yours.

My coworker's brother died in early fall. She got a call last week from a staff member (she use to know well and now he only occasionally calls when he has a question) he called to say he was sorry for not calling and checking on her, he had been meaning to do it, time just got away...and he just dropped everything to say hello and not need anything this time, just to say hi. She was touched. Heck, I was touched and I'm rarely moved...

Speaks volumes, thanks.

How about say "You go first". Let them go first. And then after 10 or so minutes, tell them you've got to go. Your frustration with them is because they don't listen to you. So stop expecting that. Listen to them as much as you feel comfortable with. And then move on. Limit their verbal dumps to the number you feel comfortable with. My in-laws (hubby's parents and siblings) have been like with us for years. Right now, I listen to what is happening with them and their kids (who I like very much) and when I get bored, I make up an excuse to get off the phone. I wish I had start this years ago. It works out so much better for my mental health. They really know nothing about us.

Interesting approach--and well worth trying, I think, thanks.

I think really the wider point about not making excuses as to why you weren't present during a friend's bereavement is not so much competition as 'making it about you'. Don't give excuses - they will always sound lame no matter what and it will turn the subject away from the person who should be at that center.

Ach. right. Much better said, thanks.

A lot of comments on the non-listening parents. I'm just going to dump a bunch on you without comment.

This is justifiably annoying - but can you focus on where get that sort of nurturing interest so that you can fill the void that way, it'll make their lack of interest less raw. What are your parents good qualities - can you focus on them?

Something the OP might try is changing the way she talks to them. I'm a polite talker, and sometimes find it hard to communicate in conversations when people jump in over me. So I have to make a concerted effort to jump back in and take control. Just because the parents steer the conversation their way, doesn't mean they didn't "hear" what the OP says. If the OP is more aggressive about driving the conversation, she may feel better, since at this point, the only thing she can change is her own behavior.

Could I please jump on the "Ask Them Questions" bandwagon? My mom died when I was 22 and my dad died when I was 25. There is SO much I would love to ask them...not important things but where did they go on their first date? How did they know they should get married, have kids, take this or that job?There are questions that ARE important that I and my siblings never asked and we will never know the answers. If they like to talk about themselves, figure out what you want to know and ask the question.

This phenom is so common - - comments or news are perhaps acknowledged by the listener, and immediately becomes all about them. A similar event, how something affected them etc. Don't worry about what other think is my best advice. IF a listener listens, responds to your statements and doesn't convert it to them, feel lucky. Otherwise, let it go. Your value is NOT determined by how much or little others listen. I have friends on both sides of this one; some listen, some revert to 'it is all about me' instantly.. It's the human condition.

As the granddaughter of a person with a similar converstational nature I determined the best course of action with a letter. I became less frustrated at my Grandmother's inability to take in what I was talking to her about when I could just write it all down. What she takes away from it - I'll never know, but we still communicate regularly and that is the important part of it all.

Yes, write it down for them, I love this idea. Then they know, at least, what you want them to know.

That's it--thanks everybody.



I'm sorry...what?! I'm supposed to just keep quiet about how I feel about my body because I weigh less than the average woman? That's BS. Of course I'm sensitive to other people's concerns, but I reject the idea that I can't talk with anyone about how I feel because it might upset them. Know your audience, yes. Never talk to your friends because you weigh less than they do? No.

Okay then! 

Who asked you to do that?

Long story (somewhat) short: I recently had a joint party with one of my best friends....while everyone else seemed to have a great time, she spent majority of the evening crying in the bathroom over (what I consider) VERY trivial things. She approached me a few times during the night, when I was standing with a group of friends, and yelled "at me" about these trivial things, which I was quite embarrassed by....but at the end of the night things got out of hand and she screamed at me (in front of the remaining 20-30 guests) for about 10 minutes. I tried to walk away and keep my composure, but she continued to follow me screaming. My husband came in and that put an end to her tantrum, but I don't know where to go from here. We're all adults (mid 30's +) and alcohol was definately a factor....but she said such mean and hurtful things that I just can't get past mentally right now. Should I give a pass because I know she was drunk and save this 20+ year friendship? FWIW, her only attempt at a conversation was the morning after but I told her I was too angry to discuss it, and I didn't want to say anything with such raw emotions....there has been no apology to date.

Sounds like it's over, yes, but 20-plus years say it's worth a call in which you say, "Okay, I've cooled off and am eager to know what happened at the party." 

It's possible that reasonable people can have definitions of "VERY trivial" that differ from yours, and that you were being very dismissive. Not that that justifies her going all middle school on you, but it could at least fill in some blanks on what sounds like a pretty strange episode.

For what it's worth, those 20-plus years and your current ages hint at the possibility that  you two made friends young and have changed quite a bit since, and the blowup might just have been an unfortunate tears-and-beers, pressure-release finale where most other friendships like it either change with the times or just drift. 


What do you do when your "gay husband" gets a boyfriend? I have a best friend who is gay, and we are so close and do so much together that he often gets mistaken for my boyfriend or my husband by people who don't know us... even some of our friends affectionately call me "his wife." I suppose the best way to describe it is a Will & Grace kind of relationship. However, he recently met a guy that he seems to have fallen for pretty quickly (talking all the time, already making getaway plans, etc.), and I'm really concerned (even if it's selfishly concerned) that the closer he potentially gets to this new boyfriend, the further he might pull away from me, even if it's unintentionally. I know he's not really my boyfriend, or my husband, so I have no right to complain or intervene, and I absolutely believe that he deserves to be happy. But at the same time, I honestly don't know what I'd do without him if he starts spending all his time with his new boyfriend, and I'm scared that the nature of our relationship might change because of it and we might lose what we have. What should I do?

I've gone to answer this a couple of times and I keep toggling back and forth.

There's a part of me that really sympathizes, because it's both common and heartbreaking to semi-lose a friend when the friend pairs off. I say "semi-lose" because a real friend stays a friend, of course, but the friendship inevitably changes when you add someone so significant, be it better, worse, or just different. 

... And there's a part of me that gets this whiff of feeling sad that a favorite toy is being taken away. Maybe I'm just being distracted by the cutesy labels, your attachment is genuinely to him and not to the "gay husband" idea, and therefore I'm being horribly unfair--but every time I started to compose an answer ignoring this hunch, it sounded dishonest.

So, with that off my chest, here's some advice:

What do you do? You treat him as you would any loved one. You celebrate his happiness, you include his new boyfriend where you can, you commit to being flexible, good-natured and patient as you all adjust to this new way of life, and you generally have his back as you hope your best friend would have yours. Fair?


I have a long-distance boyfriend who I adore, and plan on spending my life with (assuming things stay on track, which I know is a big assumption, but, hey). I've developed minor feelings for a friend of ours who I spend a lot of time with. I have ZERO plans of acting on these feelings, I just have noticed that I react to him more intensely than I do to most people...the "crush" is more on the level of wanting to hang out a lot, and sometimes wondering what it would be like to kiss him. We hang out alone and in groups that often include his sort-of girlfriend. When my boyfriend is in town, the three of us hang out quite a bit. My question is, do you think I should try to spend less time with this friend, or not spend time with him? Is it possible to have an intense friendship that provokes these kinds of feelings without threatening a relationship? Am I kidding myself in thinking that this is harmless? I value the friendship quite a lot, but I value my relationship with my boyfriend more, and I don't want to plant toxic seeds in our metaphorical garden.

But what if the seeds are for peonies?

I don't think I can come even close to answering this without knowing more specifics, because I can imagine a couple of paths leading you to the exact point you describe and each requiring a completely different answer. 

For example, if you're young, and/or didn't spend much or any time locally with the boyfriend before he became a long-distance one, and/or your love is heavily attraction based vs. compatibility based, and/or neither you nor your LD guy wants to move so your long-distance days are indefinite, then I'd need to advise you that setting "Make long-distance relationship work" as your goal is short-sighted and needlessly limiting.

If instead you've racked up some life miles, and/or have a solid history with LD boyfriend that says you're rock solid and you prefer his company to anyone's, including this friend's, and/or you know yourself to be susceptible to proximity crushes and have no reason to believe this current one is any different, and/or you have a clear and imminent end date to  your living in separate places, then I'd need to advise you that sticking to your "make it work" plan is the only rational way to think.

Either way,  the sensible thing to do is limit your time around the friend till you get your heart and mind straight. A long as your feelings for the local friend are growing, you are kidding yourself that this is harmless, regardless of which Totally Contradictory Advice Scenario applies.

VA Psychologist here. The VA crisis hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Please call it or encourage him to. You don't have to be suicidal or "in crisis." They'll be able to link you to the nearest VA with mental health resources. The VA is getting better and working hard to help veterans when they get home. Good luck and I hope he gets the help he deserves.

Excellent, thank you.

I'd also flag mental health/alcohol issues if her response was truly disproportionate to the circumstances. Many times, these issues can be hidden until alcohol undoes the carefully constructed mask.

Good point, thanks.

I have a related question about memorializing dates related to loved ones who have passed away. My boyfriend died unexpectedly almost one year ago from a heart attack at the age of 29. Both his birthday and the anniversary of his death are coming up this month. Is it heartless of me to not want to get into the pattern of commemorating these dates? The pain of his loss is very deep and still pretty fresh and I just can't imagine wanting to rehash it every year into perpetuity.

If anything, judging you for not grieving the "right" way would be heartless.

People show love and respect in about as many ways as there are people. On one extreme are those who feel they owe it to the deceased to live their lives fully, instead of dwelling in their shared past, and at the other extreme are those who dedicate their lives to preserving whatever they possibly can of that past. Whether you choose one of these or any point in between, you needn't explain yourself to me.

What a shocking loss that must have been, I'm sorry. Do what you need, and honor his memory in a way that feels right to you. 


I think it also might be telling to think about how you feel about the crush when you LD boyfriend is in town, since you say the three of you hang out. Does your crush dissapate when your boyfriend is around, or do you find yourself wishing your bf would leave the two of you alone?

Or, if it's not to that point yet, is it trending that way?

I said "trending." Sorry.

My husband is dying to have kids - and I knew that when we got married. I am more ambivalent. We are both in our early 30s and feel like if we are going to have kids (at least biologically) we need to get busy. He's excited and I'm terrified about how our lives are going to change. I love kids, but the idea of having my own scares me to pieces. My husband tries to understand my position, but clearly doesn't. Is it abnormal to worry about how our lives and our relationship might negatively be impacted by this decision?

I think it's abnormal ... er, "less common" ... not to worry. Creating humans and foisting this world upon them is a big, fat, hairy deal, and should be treated as such. When your kid has a terrible time with something, there will be moments when you as the parent will think, "I remember going through that kind of hell myself when I was growing up, and yet I set him/her up to go through the same thing? I am a monster." 

In the past I've said about this decision that parenthood is probably a good choice for you if you're good at and like being flexible about life. There are staggering rewards to childrearing, chief among them the deep love and the ability to see the world anew through their eyes, but it's a bumpy ride. If you get wigged out by uncertainty then at least make sure

1. you're good at mastering your anxieties, and

2. you have a history of being very grateful for the times you've taken big chances

... before you choose to have kids. 

In addition, now, I'd add that a general, durable appreciation for life, even life in middle school, even life in a middle school cafeteria when you're not popular and your only real friend is home sick, is also a prerequisite. 

More specifically, take a good look at the "negatively impacted"--as you see it--and maybe talk to other parents about what they thought they'd be giving up, what they actually did have to give up, and whether in retrospect they should have taken any of it more (or less) seriously. 




Hi Carolyn, I put my foot down with a (now possibly former) friend today, knowing full well that she'd fly off the handle (she told me to stop talking to her). She's cut off people before for this, so I'm pretty sure if I want us to stay friends I'm going to have to apologize to her for standing up for myself. I'm not willing to do that, but I'm still sad/unsure how to move past this 13-year friendship. Any advice?

You made this decision with your eyes wide open. Trust yourself. It's normal to be sad for a while, but sadness fades.

I'm 5 years out from a divorce where I discovered during that process that my spouse hid or lied about some fairly fundamental things. As a result, I have a pretty visceral zero tolerance reaction about being lied to, which has led to hurt feelings with good friends. The most obvious example was my friend lying during the first trimester about expecting their first child. Objectively, I completely understand doing this for all the obvious medical and personal reasons. (Afterall, it's actually not any of my business anyway.) But in reality, it was a gutpunch to eventually discover I'd been lied to about it. This friend and I are fine now, but I'm really unsure how to get past this in general in my life. It can't be normal for every lie or omission to feel like a complete violation of trust. Is there something I can do?

Have you gotten any therapy? What you're describing sounds so very different in details, but similar in general outcome, to the veteran who is drinking too much. You've been traumatized by unwelcome knowledge of what one human being is capable of doing to another, and you're having trouble finding a comfortable way coexist with this information, particularly this new way of looking at people. If you have access to good, reputable counseling, then please do give it a try.  

Literally minutes ago, my husband and I got into a fight, and he threw at me that I'm the source of his high anxiety and blood pressure. My first reaction was to get defensive - he's struggled all his life to manage his anxiety - but now I wonder if I am the reason. His anxiety seems to have gotten worse when we got engaged three years ago. I'm always trying to be understanding and accommodating of his anxiety, which is at the point of ruling his life, so I was just sad when he said, in anger, that I was the source. How do I handle this? He rejects the idea of marriage counseling, and will not follow up with doctors or the personal trainer I hired for him.

No doubt you are a key part of his health picture, merely by virtue of  your prominence in his life.

I can assure you, though, that someone with high anxiety and blood pressure who "rejects the idea" of  and "will not follow up with" three of the most obvious ways to improve his health is more of an enemy to himself than his spouse is.

It sounds as if things have reached a point where you need to seek the expertise he refuses to, ideally with a reputable mental-health-care provider who can speak to both the anxiety and relationship pieces of the problem. Those doctors he won't follow up with are a good place to start your quest for a referral. 



If counseling isn't an option for some reason, or if the process of seeing one is such that you won't get an appointment till weeks from now, also consider getting help from NAMI (link). The help line might be useful to you, as might their support groups for family members.

I'm so very sorry. I agree fully with Carolyn's advice, and will add one thing - don't be afraid to let your feelings on how/if to commemorate his birth and death dates change over time. You may never feel like marking those days, but if you ever do, that's okay, too. Should you find yourself a decade down the road and suddenly the idea of letting either date go by without noting them somehow strikes you as not what you want to do, go with it. Don't feel like what you do this year, or next year, or any year to come has to inform what you do in the future. And if your approach doesn't change with time, then it doesn't. And that's okay, too.

Important angle, thanks.

That's it for today. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend and hope to see you here next week. 

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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